Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation

Predistribution - what it is, why it matters and why you're probably already doing it!

Followers of current affairs will have recently heard Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, announce a new policy direction for the Labour Party promoting “Predistribution”. Many will have then scratched their heads wondering what such a thing might be.

This article from the centre-left think tank Policy Network may help explain. Predistribution seeks to prevent inequalities rather than seek to remedy them through redistribution once they emerge. In an economic environment where government spending is likely to reduce further and where any recovery is unlikely to replace what was lost then the ability to redistribute is reduced making “predistribution” more attractive. Miliband, when launching the policy idea focused on skills development but the Policy Network piece has more of a focus on the early years interventions which are needed if the skills gap between rich and poor is to be closed

"Over the last decade, many European countries have sought to shift the focus of the welfare state to correct inequalities a priori, and to invest in the earliest years of citizen’s lives – but much more needs to be done. The risk is that in the light of the crisis and the need for further fiscal adjustment, states focus only on protecting ‘traditional’ welfare transfers and services, rather than ensuring equality-boosting measures such as pre-school programmes, parenting support, high quality childcare from zero to adolescence, extra tutorial provision at school for those from low income households, and additional asset policies"

And it’s here where the policy idea becomes a little more familiar as this is the agenda we’re seeing develop around the Whole Place pilot in Greater Manchester and which is also in tune with a number of developing coalition policies. The driver from the coalition may be that early intervention can reduce dependency on the state rather than purely as a desire to see inequalities reduce but the outcomes are much the same in that healthier, better educated citizens need less support and are better equipped to participate in the economy.

Now any policies Labour produce will be wider ranging than just investing in early years and pre-distribution as a concept will inevitably be made more complicated than I'm presenting it as but in essence we’re perhaps seeing a political consensus perhaps emerging around these issues of the state supporting prevention rather than trying to fix people. To be fair this is a development some time in the making – the current coalition Whole Place initiatives being rather similar to the last government’s Total Place programme, which also sought to shift investment into prevention. Whether the current set of initiatives is more or less successful and not withstanding the result of the 2015 General Election it’s becoming fairly safe to predict that investment in early years services, with the intent to reduce both inequalities and demand on services, will be a priority. Many voluntary sector organisations will feel well placed to work in these areas and maybe this can provide some sliver of hope in what are quite bleak times as far as service development is concerned.

However in the present there are issues which put some of this future development at risk. Earlier this year GMCVO conducted a broad survey on cuts and we’ll soon be able to publish some of our findings. A key trend emerging from this research is that voluntary organisations supporting children and young people seem to be facing harsher cuts. Obviously this seems at odds with the growing priority placed on this area of delivery by politicians and in public sector strategy but often whilst there is a belief that such services are vital for the future often current spending decisions are based on impact now. When the benefits of your service may not emerge until years or even decades into the future it’s not always possible to prove your worth today or attribute any positive changes you can measure to any particular service. If government, local and national, is committed to supporting interventions in this area it may need to have a little more faith in the organisations that can deliver.